New York

Tauba Auerbach, Grain: Sierpiński Ghost I, 2015, acrylic on Masonite, 90 × 48".

Tauba Auerbach, Grain: Sierpiński Ghost I, 2015, acrylic on Masonite, 90 × 48".

Tauba Auerbach

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Tauba Auerbach, Grain: Sierpiński Ghost I, 2015, acrylic on Masonite, 90 × 48".

When considering Tauba Auerbach’s work of the past few years, I am often sent down a rabbit’s hole of unfamiliar mathematical and scientific terms: entheogen, the Sierpiński curve, metamaterial, oscillator fret. I order books like The New Ambidextrous Universe and The Shape of Space and print out early-twentieth-century treatises like Projective Ornament. It is with great pleasure that I dive into her world, but also with a bit of trepidation: not only because—just between us—I don’t really understand the fourth dimension, a theme that has fascinated Auerbach for several years now, but, more critically, because I worry that I may not be able to align her output with the subjects she so thoroughly researches to produce it.

Such fear was unfounded, however, in regard to the group of paintings, weavings, and sculptures in “Projective Instrument.” Auerbach’s artworks are not meant to illustrate or explain a concept; they are meant to create an experience informed by a concept. Take Chiral Fret (Meander)/Extrusion/Ghost, 2015, one of her “Weave” series, 2011–, composed of interlaced canvas strips: as the eye moves left to right, a Greek key pattern that runs vertically up the left-hand side breaks down into an increasingly unstable set of horizontal lines. What began, for me at least, as a challenge to decipher the code behind the weaving, became an invitation to surrender to the strangeness and beauty of the forms themselves, of the way the in-and-out weaving of each strip oscillated between flat surface and three-dimensional object, and of the pattern’s submission to chaos. It is with this work that Auerbach most plainly approaches her proclaimed interest in “ornament as entheogen,” as a means, that is, by which to induce an altered state of consciousness. A neologism coined in the late 1970s, the word entheogen combines entheos (“full of god”), used by Greeks as a term of praise for artists, and genesthai, or “to come into being.” The idea that a rigorous adherence to order can stimulate something unexpected is not unique to Auerbach (one example: the absurd endgame of Sol LeWitt’s permutations), but it is well suited to her tight compositions. (The implication that art retains the possibility of a spiritual or transcendent experience feels, on the other hand, refreshingly radical.)

Auerbach’s exhibition title alludes to Claude Bragdon’s 1915 text Projective Ornament, the American architect’s plea that artists “invoke the aid of mathematics,” particularly projective geometry. Bragdon’s explanations of how to represent tesseracts (four-dimensional cubes), pentahedroids, and hyperprisms in two dimensions is straightforward and succinct, similar in clarity to the sleek, tabletop-bound arrangement of 3-D-printed variations of frets, helices, and double helices in Auerbach’s Altar/Engine, 2015. However, the decorative applications Bragdon devises for these forms—atop rugs, curtains, and ironwork—evoke the types of design Adolf Loos railed against in his “Ornament and Crime.” Which is why, perhaps, Auerbach has motivated ornaments as brushes for her new paintings. Rather than representing the forms in paint, she used a variety of tools modeled on weaves and space-filling curves to create these ten large-scale paintings. The acrylic-on-Masonite works seem to each have two components: a sprayed background (reminiscent of her “Fold” series from 2009–13) and marks Auerbach makes by dragging her custom-made tools across the surface. The mottled background suggests a depth that the smeared paint resolutely opposes. The contrast of dimensions and the irresolution between them may serve as a clue to understanding that thorny notion of the fourth dimension after all.